Caught Stealing: CMU Police believe Aaron McLatcher stole Adderall from baseball players before joining Davenport staff
Players, pitching coach hid locker room thefts from Jaksa until police were involved
Aaron McLatcher was nervous when he arrived at Park Library on March 26, 2017.
The assistant director of strength and conditioning for Central Michigan University's baseball team believed he was about to be confronted by one of the players he trained.
Eight years after McLatcher was hired as a student volunteer for the Chippewas, police believe he began stealing prescription Adderall pills from baseball players. He was at the library that night to return stolen Adderall to a pitcher who claimed to have caught the theft on video.
One year later, after he was placed on administrative leave and while a police investigation was underway, McLatcher left Central Michigan for Davenport University.
Team Survey Opens Floodgates
“Aaron is my favorite coach. He is hardly ever around and never shows up for lifts anymore. He expects his interns to run our weights while he leaves and does whatever he wants. In the past, he was accused of ‘borrowing’ someone’s medication from their locker and after being confronted he returned it.” – Unnamed baseball player’s comment in season-end survey
The first evidence of drugs being stolen from the Keilitz Clubhouse came from an anonymous comment left on an annual student-athlete survey. The surveys, which are given to players to help evaluate the baseball program, were filled out by the team on April 25, 2018. Nine days later, on May 4, a response regarding McLatcher was reviewed by the CMU Athletic Department.
The complaint was reported to Central Michigan University Police on May 16, 12 days after the CMU Athletic Department received the survey about McLatcher, according to police records.
“Once we heard a credible complaint, we immediately contacted the police, cooperated fully with the investigation and placed Mr. McLatcher on leave,” said Athletic Director Michael Alford. “It’s something I take very seriously. I care about the treatment of our student athletes.”
CMUPD believes McLatcher took medication from student-athletes from December 2015 to March 2017. The police listed three victims in the report. McLatcher did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
The pitcher that McLatcher believed was going to confront him in Park Library was interviewed by police on May 17 by phone. He told investigators he had 20-30 Adderall pills stolen throughout the 2015-16 school year. The pitcher has since graduated and declined to be interviewed for this story, but teammates provided off-the-record perspective about the team.
At first, the pitcher believed one of his teammates was stealing the pills. After pills went missing again in 2017, he began to suspect McLatcher was the thief.
The pitcher was close with McLatcher. He looked up to him and considered McLatcher more than just a trainer. He trusted McLatcher with the health of his body and on-field play. McLatcher was a friend.
Despite the bond between the athlete and coach, all signs of the theft pointed to McLatcher as the likely suspect.
That’s when the pitcher came up with a plan to finally discover who was stealing his Adderall.
Pitching Coach Did Not Report Rumors, Player Lays A Trap
“After having some of my Adderall stolen the past few weeks and having some stolen last year I decided Thursday that I was going to set up a fake Adderall pill in my locker not in the prescription bottle and set up my camera across the locker room to film all day Friday and (Sunday). And today I got you on camera. And I will be taking this video to (Executive Associate Athletic Director Cristy Freese) first thing in the morning if I don’t get a text from this person with an explanation and my pills returned by 10 p.m. tonight.” – Baseball player in text message to teammates
On March 23, 2017, the pitcher decided he was going to attempt to catch the person who was stealing his medication. CMU’s upcoming home games at Theunissen Stadium would give him the perfect setting in the Keilitz Clubhouse. The Chippewas played a double-header on March 24 and one game on March 26 – all against Missouri State.
Following Sunday’s game, all CMU pitchers, former pitching coach Jeff Opalewski and McLatcher received the text message above at 6:56 p.m.
The pitcher did not actually have a hidden camera in the locker room. He just wanted his teammates and coaches to believe he did.
The pitcher wanted to see who, if anyone, would come forward.
Opalewski was contacted by the pitcher regarding the missing Adderall before the three-game series.
“There was just a rumor that I caught wind of. I heard there was an issue (of drugs being stolen),” Opalewski said.
One of the pitcher's teammates said Opalewski stepped out of the way because he expected that a player was stealing the Adderall. Opalewski wanted to let the team work out the situation internally. The pitcher later contacted his pitching coach and told him the pills were returned and the theft issue was resolved.
Opalewski took no further action. He also did not bring the theft to head coach Steve Jaksa's attention.
After the survey information was received by baseball staff, they interviewed 12 players in a room at Rose Center, according to police records. During that conversation they realized the incident – theft of a prescription drug from a student – was a criminal complaint and should be reported to police.
“We were all in a room and left with the understanding that it wasn’t our place to talk,” Opalewski said. “When everything happened, I was asked not to speak about it.”
Opalewski did not discuss the situation again until he was contacted by police following the start of the investigation in May 2018. Police also met with Alford, Director of Employee Relations Kevin Smart, Executive Director of Faculty Personnel Services Dennis Armistead and Director of Employee Relations Scott Hoffman.
Meanwhile, other members of the team knew of the ongoing thefts, but they did not report the information to baseball staff, either.
Although he told police he was adamant that he did not want to press charges against McLatcher for swiping his Adderall, the pitcher was furious. He did not speak with McLatcher for weeks. The upperclassmen on the team followed his lead. When McLatcher showed his face in the locker room, players looked the other way.
One other baseball player claims he had Adderall stolen from the locker room. The theft was never resolved. That player told CMUPD Det. Jason VanConat that in March 2015, he left a bottle of Adderall in his locker. After taking the field, the player returned to find 10-15 Adderall pills were missing. He did not report the incident and had no idea who took the pills.
Another student told VanConat that some of the older players warned him that McLatcher took medication from the locker room in the past.
Jaksa and other coaches and team staff told CMUPD they did not know about the stolen Adderall. Only Opalewski told police that he discussed the Adderall theft with a player.
Former pitcher Dazon Cole, who is currently in the Los Angeles Angels organization, backed Jaksa. Cole said the head coach was shocked upon hearing of the investigation. When Cole's teammate texted in the pitcher group chat, he asked for the situation to be kept between those involved – hoping word would not get to Jaksa.
"From my standpoint, (Jaksa) didn't know anything," Cole said. "When the school got into it for an investigation, that's when he knew. If he would've heard something, I'm pretty sure he would have talked to (the player) before, but he didn't."
On May 23, 2018, VanConat reached out to McLatcher.
Hours later, he received a fax from McLatcher’s attorney, David Barberi, stating McLatcher would not be making any statements to police.
VanConat completed the investigation. On June 12, the Isabella County Prosecuting Attorney's Office informed officers that it would not authorize charges against McLatcher.
In August, McLatcher accepted the position of director of strength and conditioning at Davenport University in Grand Rapids.
Players wanted Jaksa, others fired
On a baseball team there is one person who is expected to hold everyone accountable – including players and coaches like Opalewski and McLatcher. For the Chippewas that person was Jaksa – head coach, mentor and the face of CMU baseball for almost two decades. He was also known for being volatile, and was cited for his behavior several times during his tenure according to his personnel file. Those who had knowledge of the Adderall thefts kept the situation quiet, preferring to handle it without the head coach's help.
“The head coach is responsible for the culture of the team,” Alford said. “They are in charge of their overall program. They are the CEO of that program.”
In Jaksa’s 16 years as head coach, he led the Chippewas to three Mid-American Conference regular season championships and six MAC West Division titles. However, CMU’s last tournament championship was earned in 1995 under coach Dean Kreimer, who won 516 total games from 1985-98.
Prior to the start of the 2018 season, Alford instructed Jaksa to “get back to (the) winning tradition.”
Jaksa failed to meet that standard. The Chippewas ended the season 29-30-1 overall.
Many players sought immediate change. Some demanded Jaksa be fired before the 2018 season even began. Comments submitted by players include:
• “We need to rebuild. I want to bring back a winning tradition. That means work ethic and leadership, and it starts with the coaches.”
• “Not what I expected at all when I was recruited to come here.”
• “It’s time for a head coaching change.”
• “Fire the coaching staff and get some people who care about everyone and care about winning.”
• “No respect for him at all. Worst coach I’ve ever had.”
Jaksa ranked low in four specific categories – organization, interaction with his coaching staff, administrative abilities and communication skills.
Jaksa's players, upon finding out of McLatcher's larceny while attempting to remain silent, became aware of the serious threats inside the locker room.
Instead of forcing the baseball team into fear, it made them aware of McLatcher's problems. If players had medications of any type, especially those necessary to function, those were kept at home. Nobody acted out, but everyone was aware.
Negativity in the locker room, such as thefts and distrust between players and staff, can cause a team to sway from its winning tradition.
“I think everything that happens affects the team,” Opalewski said.
On May 31, Jaksa was summoned to Alford’s office for a meeting about the future of the program. By the time that meeting was over, Jaksa retired as head coach following the 2018 season. He collected 507 career wins for the Chippewas.
“The opportunity to help mold these young men meant a great deal to me,” Jaksa said in a June 1 athletics press release at the time of his retirement. “Know that a small piece of my heart will always be with my players.”
On Aug. 15 – 75 days later – Jaksa quickly came out of retirement to become head coach at Saginaw Valley State University. He did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
New season, new beginning
Since Jaksa’s retirement, Alford conducted a nationwide search for a new baseball coach. He found a replacement just 27 miles away at Northwood University in Midland. Jordan Bischel was hired as Jaksa’s successor on June 28.
“(Bischel) really stood out with the culture of his organization,” Alford said. “We get the details in those interviews. I have full faith in the program that he’s going to put forth for us in baseball. I have high expectations.”
By July 1, McLatcher and Opalewski were also gone from the baseball program.
After the police sought charges against McLatcher for larceny, Isabella County Senior Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Alan Reimers declined to pursue them.
McLatcher, who officially resigned from CMU on June 20, has worked at Davenport for almost five months. Cole was shocked after learning McLatcher found a new job.
“Once you go through something like that at one place, other schools are tough on hiring you," Cole said.
Davenport Athletic Director Paul Lowden and head coach Kevin Tidey were contacted for comment for this story. Alford would not confirm if he received a call from Davenport seeking a reference for McLatcher before his hire.
It is unclear if Davenport knew McLatcher was on administrative leave and was the subject of a police investigation immediately before hiring him.
“That’s not me for me to answer,” Alford said. “That’s personnel stuff.”
When questioned about whether Opalewski should have reported the missing Adderall after first hearing about it, he said he was “comfortable” with his response. After the 2018 season, Opalewski left Mount Pleasant to become a pitching coach for the Post Grad Program at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
“I’m pretty comfortable with everything,” Opalewski said. “I don’t think that there’s any benefit to looking back and wondering if I would’ve done something different.”